10. Third Age 2948 - Part One
The Valar must have arranged their meeting in the halls of Dol Amroth that autumn. Amdir had discovered her as he searched for Thengel - but the quest for Thengel was immediately forgotten in the beauty of the woman who had stood before him. Now, at last, he would dance with her at their own nuptials, wrap her in his arms, and find joy at the closeness of her. They were to be wed, he and his Listöwel. His mind reeled at the prospect of it, the total unbelievably blessed thought of it. Ecthelion had given his approval. Early spring, when the flowers in the gardens of his mother blossomed and spread their fragrance in the air, that was the time granted for the troth pledge. How could he ever endure the wait? They were no longer able to spend time alone together. Tradition dictated a time of separation, a time for love to be tested by distance. If only he could go on patrol somewhere far away from the City, perhaps it would help ease the pain, the tightness in his chest as he contemplated the months apart. But Thengel would not allow it. Amdir was relegated to constant training, tutoring, and practice. He had twice been cut by blade when his mind had wandered to the thought of her face, her smile, and been reprimanded vehemently by the swordmaster. Yet no physical pain erased the pain in his heart. He would see her now and again on the City's streets, walking with Indis or Morwen; she would look the other way following the custom of Gondor, causing his heart to tear into tiny bits. This could not be for the good. What kind of tradition would keep two such as they apart for so long?
Denethor, helpless in the face of his friend's distress, was as morose as he. There was naught he could do to cheer Amdir, though he had taken him to 'The Three Fishermen' on various occasions trying to lift his spirits, take his mind off the woman he loved. Naught was gained; Amdir was lost in his despair. Finally, Denethor went to Thengel.
"Please, I ask you as friend, may I take a company or a half company to the North Gate and beyond or perhaps Cair Andros on the pretense of patrol for Amdir's sake? We will only be gone for a month, no more, but I cannot abide looking at his visage, wracked with pain as it is."
Thengel sighed. He did not understand the traditions of Gondor, but was expected to uphold them. He was well aware of the suffering of Amdir and he had hoped the training would be enough to take his friend's mind off his love, but then he smiled to himself. Had training ever given him surcease from thoughts of Morwen when they were separated?
"You will have orders in the morning," he said and was quickly engulfed in a fervent embrace.
Their orders were for two months; their destination was to be Cair Andros. Denethor rejoiced at his good fortune. His mind tried to envision an excuse that might take him towards Henneth Annûn. The thoughts of the men there, waiting for relief, and the anger of his father if he knew he contemplated disobeying his orders, were dismissed as quickly as they came. He would not lose this opportunity. Who knew that his needs would be fulfilled at the same time as Amdir's? A full company was to be at his command. Never before had he been given a full company. When last he had been to Cair Andros he had a full company, but most were left to garrison the island. Now, they would be his. The thrill of command ran through him at this unexpected grace.
One week later, the company rode out of the City, with the Heir's banner flying in the hands of Denethor's aide, Dúinhir of Blackroot Vale, newly come to Minas Tirith as a recruit. Denethor's face shone from the thrill of it - his own company, his own banner flying, and his friend at his side. Could life be any better? The only thorn in this was his decision to contravene his father's orders. It could not be helped. He had given his word to Findegon. Hot blood coursed through his veins at the thought of his shame at the breaking of his promise. He would have to be careful; he would have to devise a way to meet with Findegon. How would he tell the Ranger of Ecthelion's refusal to relieve them of their post at Henneth Annûn? Tears pricked at his eyes at the thought of it - brave men, abandoned, when replacements were available. Anger burned him afresh. He could not bring relief but he could offer his deepest regrets. There was naught more he could do.
Amdir, too deeply engrossed in his own thoughts to notice the agitation of his friend, rode in silence. His thoughts, as ever, were upon his beloved. A slight smile creased his eyes as he thought of his use of Thengel's term for Morwen. Appropriate, wonderful term - beloved. His eyes shone with the memory of her. This mission was doing naught to relieve his need to be near Listöwel, but he knew that Denethor had risked much to take him from the City, to take his mind from the forced separation. He rode closer to his friend and touched Denethor's arm. "My friend. I have not thanked you."
"For what, Amdir? We are obeying orders, that is all," Denethor said with a laugh.
"Nay, my friend. I know that is not all. You saw my distress and you have used this patrol as a diversion. I know Thengel was against it. I know that you put your friendship with him at risk. I cannot thank you enough."
"Amdir, you are friend to Thengel also. It was not difficult to remind him of that. He values your friendship, as do I. We three are stronger when we are of one mind. Today, we are of one mind. We will spend this time building up Cair Andros along with our friendship, and when we return, we will take Thengel to 'The Three Fishermen' and amuse him with tales of our adventure. I look forward to that more than anything."
"Is that really all this trip means to you?"
"Yes. We are following orders, that is all."
"You speak of us being of one mind. I feel there is more upon your heart than Cair Andros, my friend. Tell me, before you bring sorrow or shame upon yourself. What other action are you planning?"
Denethor took a deep breath. "I am being foolish, Thengel would think, but I cannot, have not, been able to forgive my father for making me break my promise to Findegon and his men. I cannot live with myself. I must go to Henneth Annûn and explain what has happened. I cannot relieve them, but I can at least... Amdir, how am I to endure this shame? I was foolish, yes, by saying that they would be relieved before I had father's permission. But it seemed so apparent to me that there was such need. How could I have ever known that father would stay his hand in helping them? They have been there too long. And Dagnir is now relegated to banishment, unbeknownst to him." His shoulders slumped and Rochallor slowed his pace as his master's hand loosened his grip.
Appalled at Denethor's statement, Amdir pulled his own horse up. "I believe it is time for us to set camp, my Lord." He turned to Dúinhir and commanded the lad to set Denethor's tent. The rest of the company dissembled and set up camp for the night.
They sat next to each other in front of the fire, all discussion stayed by the enormity of Denethor's plan. Amdir set aside thoughts of Listöwel; he now feared too much for his friend. The course of action that Denethor contemplated would spell disaster for him. Amdir could not understand Denethor's compulsion to destroy himself for the men of Henneth Annûn. They were soldiers; they had foresworn themselves to Gondor's care. How would he be able to persuade Denethor to set aside this action? Was his pride such that he would invite punishment and perhaps demotion? Fear for his friend blazed in his heart.
"By the Valar, Denethor, if you do this thing, you will surely... Do you not remember when your father banished you from his household? If you do this thing, you risk banishment again. Is your pride worth this price? These men are soldiers. They do not expect you to disobey an order on their account. They would be ashamed to have you challenge the orders of their Captain-General. Please, I beg you, do not do this thing. Not only will you have to bear this, but I will have to bear the guilt and regret, knowing that your concern for me led you to a path that would cause your destruction."
The air crackled with the vehemence of Amdir's plea. Denethor sat in stunned silence. "You speak wisely," he said at last. A shake of his head and an arm around his friend's shoulder told Amdir that his words had hit home. "I... I would turn from your words of caution and concern, if I could, but the words you speak hold only truth in them. What price pride? Surely pride would be destroyed by disobedience. How could I have thought to do such a thing? This shame has gnawed at my heart these past months and has pushed aside thoughts of my duty to my liege lord. You are right about Findegon. He will understand - and endure. I owe you much, Amdir."
"No more than I owe you, my Lord. No more than I owe you."
The weeks passed quickly and Amdir breathed a sigh of relief as they finally turned towards Minas Tirith. He had not slept well since he had discovered Denethor's scheme. Every morning, he had quickly scanned the company to make sure Denethor was still with them and had not run off in pursuit of his lost honor. He would never tell Thengel how close they had come to losing their friend. The horror of it still shook Amdir when he considered what might have been.
When they returned to the City, they found Morwen was again with child and Thengel quite beside himself, near bursting with pride. The joy that shone in his face spread to all who came anywhere near the Rohir. His laughter filled the air. Denethor loved being around him though he did not understand this compulsion to continue begetting offspring. It was not the way of Gondor.
Indis was taking it all in stride, rejoicing at the tasks set before her, and loving every moment of caring for Morwen, ordering clothing, and all the myriad tasks associated with the birth of another child. Forgotten were the long labor, the struggle and the fear that attended the birth of Hild. It was different this time, she told herself. Though it had only been a short time since Morwen had last given birth, Indis was sure her friend's body was ready for another. She yearned to share in the thrill of this time before them and Thengel was not above wrapping his arms around her, swinging her in a small dance movement, and sharing the happiness of the new life with her. Indis so loved this man and his joy of life.
Hild had been placed in a cradle made for Denethor, but there were none other available that Denethor felt worthy enough for Thengel's newest addition. So the two friends were oft seen in the barrack's dining hall, heads bent over sketches of the little one's cradle. Denethor was going to introduce Thengel to a carpenter of renown. Thengel had a small knowledge of woods and insisted that the babe's cot be made of oak. The finest oak, Denethor knew, grew in southern Ithilien. They would gather a half company of the Horse Guard and make a sortie into that land in two days time.
The farewells lasted overlong, from Denethor's point of view. They would only be gone a few days, yet would think they were leaving for two years! Listöwel, Morwen and Indis all gathered around the soldiers and Denethor's face burned with embarrassment at the ruckus made. Would Thengel never call the men to task and take them away from this noise?
At last, they were on their way. The smell of horses, the snap of the banners as they rode out of the Great Gate, set Denethor's heart skipping. He had finally been able to put away his despondency over Henneth Annûn and concentrate on his training again. But this sortie would be a blessed relief to that dull routine. Perhaps, he would be able to stop at Emyn Arnen and speak with Findegon's kin. Ecthelion had said naught of that. He smiled a little at the thought. Some measure of honor might yet be saved.
The ride towards Ithilien was full of soldiers' banter, dust thrown by the horses' hooves into riders' faces, and the smell of fresh air, herbs, and trees starting their spring bloom. A perfect day for a soldier - except for this particular one. It had been almost two years since Denethor had left Findegon. Why would that name not leave him? Why did the visage of that man keep rising to greet him at the beginning of the day and sleep with him at night? Why? Was it guilt? He knew he was of a melancholy nature, but this was beyond melancholy. It was a fixation. Perhaps Findegon reminded him of Cranthir - they would both be of the same age, of the same Ithilien legacy, if Cranthir had lived. How was he to free himself from this shadow that haunted him?
Amdir guided Hros next to Denethor and smiled ruefully at the sight of the scowl on his friend's face. 'What could be bothering him, now,' he wondered? "Denethor, are we lost again?" he laughed.
Denethor's scowl grew deeper. "Not in my charge today are you, so you have no fear of being lost."
"Ah, is that what makes you so grim? That you are not in command?"
"You have so little..." A sigh escaped Denethor's lips. "It is because of me that Thengel is traveling this path. I was the one who told him of the oaks in Ithilien. Would I offer such of Gondor's wealth if I had not expected Thengel to take the company himself?" he spat out.
"You are in some mood today, my friend, but it will do naught to take away my joy at traveling at your side." For a moment, the grin left his face as he thought of what he had left behind in Minas Tirith. Then he shook himself and smiled again. "My Lord, will you not tell Thengel of our adventures in the wilds of Ithilien chasing flowers?" He outright laughed now and Denethor was hard-pressed not to join him. Finally, after these many long years, the shame of that adventure was mellowing and becoming a favored tale.
"You yourself may tell the saga tonight, my friend," Denethor did laugh. "We will be very near to the spot at our crossing this day. Perhaps we two could turn and find the field. I wonder, much as your mother loves the irises we brought back, perhaps we should dig up a bunch or two more for her."
"We would not even be able to find them," Amdir said. "They will not bloom for another two months. Neither of us would have much luck locating that field. If you remember, we almost didn't find them then and the field was fully bloomed!"
"Nay, it was your constant chatter that kept my mind from focusing on our quest. You forget how often I begged you to restrain yourself. You were so loud the birds flew from us. Any hope I had of concentrating was lost every time you opened your mouth."
"I did not open my mouth for naught, my friend. If you remember, you were frightened near out of your wits and it was my merry mouth that kept our spirits lifted. And I would do it again for you - any time!" He sidestepped Hros away from the arm that flailed towards him and beat a path towards Thengel's side. He had accomplished what he had set out to do - put a smile on Denethor's lips.
The company was passing the way to Emyn Arnen on their right as they approached the Harad Road. Denethor brought Rochallor next to Thengel, put his hand on his friend's arm and asked if they might stop for nuncheon. Thengel was surprised. He had planned on eating on the road; the men had plenty of dried meat and water to keep them until they set camp. But Denethor's look told him there was more in the simple request than thoughts of food. The mission they were on was mostly personal and could be delayed for a time.
The Horse Captain turned towards his men and ordered a halt. Then, "Come, Denethor, whilst the men tend the horses. I need to speak with you," he said, giving his friend an excuse for their leaving the company, and a moment to collect his thoughts once they had dismounted.
"My Lord, you have been our captain for many a long year. And I have learned much from you during this time. You have been kind to share your thoughts with me, your burdens on leading the men. I now have a question that I cannot answer myself. I am distraught with pondering it. May I... may I share my concern with you?"
"Denethor," Thengel put a hand on his friend's shoulder, "you have only to ask." He walked forward in silence, waiting.
"Ecthelion says that I must not contact Findegon." The sigh was torn from his lips. "I have always obeyed my father. Well, most of the time," he groaned as he saw the look in Thengel's eyes. "But now, this is... I must ask you. When does a soldier have the right to disobey?"
Thengel drew in his breath slowly, trying desperately to answer his friend truthfully without being treasonous himself. He lowered his head, tied his golden hair back, and sat on a rock cropping. He motioned for Denethor to sit next to him. "I have questioned your father's orders myself," he said at last, knowing Denethor spoke of Findegon and the Rangers. "To leave those men there, after seventeen years of service with no respite, is reprehensible enough, but to not send further orders? I do not understand it.
"There may come a time when a soldier must disobey. However, there must be a grave breach in the laws of Gondor before a soldier may even consider such a thing. Now, we must deliberate - has there been a grave breach? Is it right to leave men to die with no knowledge that they are being left to die?" Thengel shook his head. "Is that what Ecthelion is doing - leaving them to die? I am not sure. He said the Rangers of Minas Tirith are not yet ready to be sent to man Henneth Annûn. That does not establish a reason for not sending orders to the men already there. We are bound to obey Ecthelion, but we are also bound to obey our hearts. My heart says we must honor our fellow soldiers. But my heart also says we must obey our Captain-General. I believe he has valid reasons for doing this; I believe it is not a grave breach of the law, but I do believe it is a breach nonetheless. I cannot tell you what to do, my friend. But I myself will obey Ecthelion in this. I will promise you, though, once we are finished with this business, I will again approach him and strongly urge him to send errand-riders with new orders. What say you to that?"
Denethor lifted his head. "Yes, my Captain," he said, grief momentarily lifting from him, "I will abide by your decision. And I will hope mightily that Ecthelion will change his mind. Or grace us with the knowledge of why he is doing what he is doing. I must tell you this, though; we are near to Emyn Arnen. The families of those very men are living here. May we go through the woods instead of the Harad Road, find their encampment and make sure all is well with them?"
"Yes, it is a good thought. I would want the same for my family."
The smell of fires burning reached Denethor's nose before he saw the encampment. It smelt almost like venison being cooked, but he was unsure. 'It is nuncheon; all is well,' he thought. But all was not well. His mind suddenly recognized the smell for what it was, as did his companions'. The fire he smelt was of burning cottages mixed with the pungent odor of burning flesh - not deer. Thengel quickly stopped the company and drew his men close. "Denethor," he hissed, "take a quarter of the company towards the east, circle the camp and wait for my signal. Amdir, you do the same on the west but follow through to come up from the south. Ciramir, you take the last quarter and guard my flank. Now, go, quietly."
It took only moments to encircle the small encampment and Denethor waited. The signal came and the men charged, not able to see through the thick trees what they were about to do battle with. Fear lay cold on their minds; righteousness blazed in their hearts. As they burst through, they found no enemy; only the dead lay to tell of the cruelty of the attack.
Thengel sobbed as he saw little bodies lying next to cruelly hacked women. There were only a few bodies of men strewn about - young men at that, none with the knowledge of how to protect their charges. Denethor remembered that Findegon had said their sons were guarding their homes. He had made a fatal error in not leaving some of his veterans in the camp. It seemed the enemy was a small band - but of what? Orcs, Corsairs, Haradrim? Who had come to this corner of Gondor and brought death? The defense had been so poor that none of the enemy lay slain.
Thengel set pickets outside the camp; Ciramir took a scouting party to make sure that none of their foe were left in the area; Amdir and Denethor were assigned the duty of searching for any left alive - friend or foe - in the burning huts, while the rest of the men were given grave duty. Bodies were still warm and fear held the soldiers as they watched their backs while digging the burial holes. Denethor and Amdir wrapped cloths around their faces and braved the flames. There could be babies alive in any of the smoldering buildings. Denethor shook as he entered the first shelter. It was empty, much to his relief, as were the next three, but he heard cries as he approached the fourth one. The flames were beyond the thatched roof and pieces of it were falling into it. He called Amdir and they both ran in. On the floor under a cot was a tiny child, almost black from the soot falling around it. The only reason Denethor saw him was because of the eyes, which shone brightly with tears. His mother must have hidden him in a blanket under the cot in the hopes of saving his life. Denethor quickly scooped the babe up and ran out; Amdir stayed to make sure there were none others left behind. The roof started to collapse around him and he cried out shrilly.
Listöwel and Indis were laughing at Morwen's discomfiture. "If you think you feel awkward now, remember how you will feel in just a few months time," Elleth laughed. Morwen grimaced. Of course she remembered. How could she forget? "Nay, I will think on it no longer. Nor will I grumble again," she said sheepishly. "At least for this day," she laughed and all four women began giggling. They all spoke at once of how difficult it would be for Morwen not to complain and tripped over each other's words in the delight of their friendship. Elleth brought more tea into the little sewing room and the scent of orange blossoms filled the air. "I believe next time we get together we must try some of the wine Thengel gave Ingold."
Morwen cried out, "We must get on with our sewing. There is so little time left to us and I really do not want to be bending over such fine work as my stomach grows!"
Indis smiled and hugged her friend. "We will not even consider your helping us in your later days."
For all the laughter, the sewing was going well, she thought. They were concentrating on Listöwel's attire for the moment. They had many months to prepare for the babe, but only a few for the troth pledge. It was to be in May. Indis took great delight in knowing the couple had unwittingly chosen the day of her own birth for their special day. Minas Tirith would be covered in flowers; that was all the decoration that Listöwel would allow, the natural beauty of the gardens of the City in full bloom.
"Here, look at the color of this flower," Listöwel teased. "Is it not perfect for my attendants' dresses?"
Morwen looked in horror at the bright orange chrysanthemum in the drawing Listöwel held up. She could just imagine herself in such a color, looking like a Mûmak. She had said this out loud and the others howled their delight.
The dresses were not going to be finished this day, Indis thought to herself. But of what matter was that when friendship was being sewn.
"Amdir!" Denethor screamed the name in horror as he watched the roof collapse upon his friend.
Thengel, still mounted, drove Nahar towards the hut, dismounted and ran into the burning building. Denethor passed the child to a startled soldier and was right behind his captain. The stunned men watched as one of the sidewalls of the hut collapsed. Flames and smoke billowed from the open door as the remaining walls tilted crazily. No sound could be heard in the encampment - no sound but the crackling of fire and the crashing of roofs, walls and trees caught too near the conflagration to be saved.
One of the soldiers quickly grabbed a bucket, ran to the well in the center of the encampment, filled the bucket and ran to toss its contents on the flames. Others followed his lead. Buckets, carrying too little for the task, were quickly filled, emptied, and filled again. The men, near to seventy strong, worked furiously, always with their eyes upon the door - waiting. Those closer to the well every few moments relieved those closest to the flames. They were making headway - the flames were lessening, but the smoke was increasing, making it more difficult to see as they dumped bucket after bucket on the fire. The smoke changed from deep black to white and the men knew their battle was almost over. And still - no one came through the door.
Ciramir's patrol returned upon sighting the billowing smoke. He feared the enemy had swung around behind them and were attacking. They rode fast and hard back to camp. He could not understand the chaos that greeted him as they came out of the forest into the clearing. What were the men doing? What was the haste? And where was his captain? He jumped off his horse and grabbed the nearest man by the collar.
"What is going on here?" he yelled over the bedlam.
"Men are caught in that hut. We are unable to rescue them." He pulled himself away from the hand gripping him, picked up his bucket and ran to the well.
Ciramir's heart froze. Where was Captain Thengel? He motioned for his men to join the bucket brigade and ran towards the hut. His eyes searched the site. Where was Denethor, Amdir, Thengel?
"Soldier," he screamed. The flames were crackling as they swept through the dry wood of the hut and drowned out all other sounds. "Where is Captain Thengel?"
"My Lord, he is inside the hut along with Lord Denethor. I know not who else is with them."
"What were they doing in there?" he cried in fear and frustration.
But the man could not hear him, or did not wish to answer, or was too heartsick to reply.
Ciramir saw that the fire was slowly being extinguished, but it would still be sometime before it was totally out. Denethor and Thengel could be dead. 'We must do something,' he thought; 'we cannot wait like this.' He ran towards his own patrol and motioned for his men to follow him. They ran to some nearby fallen trees and started pulling them towards the hut. An axe was found and branches were struck from the trunks. Then they ran towards the fallen wall of the hut. Ciramir stopped his men.
"Listen to me. We cannot wait for the flames to subside. We must venture a rescue now. Who will volunteer to help me?" All hands went up and the men ran ever closer to the hut dragging the shorn trees behind them. It was desperate work and Ciramir had little hope of success; but hope was all that was left to them.
It was only mid-morning, but Morwen was starting to feel the pangs of hunger. When she mentioned it, her friends giggled. "Eating for two, this one is," said Elleth. "Come, let us to the kitchen. I started bread this morning. It has proofed twice and should be ready to put into the oven." She had punched the dough down an hour ago and placed it into two greased baking pans. "There are cheeses on the sideboard. Listöwel, why don't you bring them to the table and cube them. Indis, there are fresh vegetables in the cooling bin. We shall have a lovely meal. Oh, and some herbs from the garden. And bring some chamomile leaves in too. That should help our dear Morwen's tummy so she can eat with ease."
The women, starting about the business of preparing nuncheon, were stopped suddenly by a moan from Morwen. "What is it?" they all cried at once.
"Some fearful thing has happened. I know not what."
"Is it the child? Are you having pains?" Indis cried in distress.
"Nay, nay it is not I." Shivers ran through her body and Indis ran to her and sat her in a chair by the table.
"What is it, dearest sister-friend?" she begged as she knelt by her side.
"It is said that night oft brings news to near kindred. Oh dear Indis, I fear for Thengel. Even though it is full day, something in my heart tells me that night has settled on him whom I love."
Listöwel's face went white.
The flames were not as strong on the open side of the hut. The men took the tree trunks and braced them against the front and back walls as close as they could get. The fire seemed to be concentrated at the other end where the walls were conjoined and dried firewood had been piled for the occupant's winter heat. Part of the patrol held back the walls with the tree trunks while others started dragging out cots, chairs, clothes, anything that was burning. Their gloves were soon smoldering. Others climbed over the broken furniture and shards of the fallen roof, still ablaze in this area. They shouted Thengel's name and then Denethor's as they pushed aside debris in a desperate hunt for their comrades. The noise of the fire, the smoke blinding them, and the shouts of the bucket brigade all conspired to keep them from finding the lost. Their throats were raw from yelling, from smoke, and from flame.
Dúinhir, Denethor's aide, upon seeing what Ciramir's men were about, ran into the hut himself, pulling aside everything in his way like a Wose of the Drúadan Forest. His head moved to and fro, from right to left in his frantic search. At last, he cried out so loud that all in the burning building could hear, "My Lord!" and tugged at a cot near the door. Pulling a body from under it, he swung it over his shoulder and ran for the opening. Ciramir was next to him immediately and tried to take the body from him, but the lad would not let go. Dúinhir ran towards the center of the square and then gently laid his burden down. Arciryas, waiting to do something, anything to help, ran to his side and bent down to look at the man. He drew his breath in sharply. The blackened face was indeed Denethor's. Sobs racked Dúinhir's body.
Ciramir, finding new hope in the discovery, ran back into the hut towards the place where Denethor was found. Nothing there. He turned towards the other side of the door and his heart stopped in pain and swelled in hope all at the same time. It was Thengel. He gently picked his captain up and ran into the open. Running towards the spot where Denethor lay, he placed his captain down before the healer. Arciryas stopped for a moment and turned towards Thengel. He laid his head upon the Thengel's chest and listened. Noise was everywhere. He pled with Ciramir to quiet the troops; Ciramir stood and bellowed, "Silence!" Immediately, all quieted, but the buckets continued to be passed from hand to hand. There was one still left in the hut.
Arciryas looked up at Ciramir. "They both live, but are sorely burned. I must have men. I have brought no unguents for burns; only salves and creams for wounds. We must send the men to find aloe plants and lavender. Oh, and Comfrey root, we must find some for their lungs."
Ciramir looked at him as if he spoke Dwarvish. "My Lord, I have no idea as to what these plants are or what they look like. How are we to find them?"
"My Lord," a soldier stepped up close. "I know these plants. I will help find them, if I may."
"What is your name, soldier?"
"Baranor, my Lord, newly recruited from Lebennin."
"Ciramir, send ten of your men with this man. All these plants grow here in Ithilien. Even though it be winter's end and many lie dormant, still their medicinal qualities will not be diluted. Baranor," he turned toward the soldier, "go as quickly as possible. Haste is our greatest weapon now. Please!"
Ciramir sent off ten men with the soldier and another ten towards Osgiliath for reinforcements and for a cart to carry the wounded back to Minas Tirith. Then he turned towards the hut. Amdir was still missing. Thengel would never forgive him if they found him too late.
By now the conflagration was diminished to small fires here and there. The hut itself looked wretchedly despoiled. The roof was gone, a wall was missing. Men were pulling out the last of the rubble. Still, there was no sign of Amdir. Ciramir shook his head. Where could he be? A soldier came up to him.
"My Lord, the men are looking in the wrong places. Amdir was already in the hut when the roof collapsed. It was only then that Denethor and Thengel moved to rescue him. He cannot be near the door."
Ciramir shoved the man aside and ran towards the back of the hut. The last of the furniture was still here. He pushed a cot aside and knelt in the soot. Tears sprang to his eyes. Only nineteen and to be wed this spring. Gently, he lifted Amdir and strode towards the square. The men all stood back, buckets hanging useless at their sides. One or two of the men kicked their buckets in anger and frustration. "All for naught," he heard one man say. Ciramir looked up. "Our captain is alive," he said loudly, "and Lord Denethor also. There may still be hope for this one. Start a fire and boil water. I want clean cloth found and cots set up. Get them from the other huts and place them next to the healer. Then finish your burial duty. Dúinhir?"
The lad came to him, swiping tears from his eyes. "Yes, my Lord?"
"I am raising you to the rank of lieutenant. I need you to take two squads and sweep the area. We are most vulnerable now. We must not be attacked unawares. The pickets are still out, are they not?"
"Yes, my Lord. They know their duty. They have not left their posts, though some are great friends of the wounded."
"As are we all, Dúinhir; you also," Ciramir put his hand on the lad's shoulder. "I wish I did not have to put this burden upon you, but fate has happened that you are next in command of those left able to fight." A small humorless smile touched his lips.
Dúinhir placed his hand upon his chest and bowed. "My Lord, we will do as you bid," and walked off. In short order, the patrol road off into the woods. Ciramir shook his head. Almost as soon as men were recruited, they were either dead or promoted.
Denethor's mind stirred as bits of a wizard's words trickled through the darkness. "You will die in fire and ash." He wanted to go back into nothingness, to hide from that voice. Not only was his mind torturing him - the faint touch of wakefulness brought incredible pain with it. His body trembled. Someone was pressing a cool cloth to his forehead, but his hands were on fire. Fire - now he remembered and his eyes flew open. "Amdir," he tried to cry, but only a whimper came from his cracked, bleeding lips.
"Shh," a voice whispered in his ear as his eyes, too tired to stay open, fell shut again. "All is well, my Lord Denethor. Rest now," and a cool draught, made from the herbs brought back by the patrol, was poured down his throat. The world drifted away again. Gratefully, he sank into its darkness.
Ciramir stood. How would they ever get back to the City? They could move none of the injured. And yet, fear lingered in the back of his mind. Osgiliath had yet to answer his call. Where was Húrin? Was this massacre a ruse by the enemy? Perhaps the foe was even now attacking Osgiliath, or worse yet, Minas Tirith? He shook his head. 'I must stay calm,' he thought. 'There is naught more to fear. The pickets are out, Dúinhir is patrolling the land, and I am tired.' He walked towards his captain. Thengel sat propped against a tree; he had refused the offered cot. Ciramir squatted down next to him.
"My Lord, should I send others to Osgiliath? Night has fallen and still no reply. Five leagues are not that far. Someone in Osgiliath should have seen the smoke and sent a patrol out long before our errand-riders even left here."
Thengel looked at him; the tiredness in his eyes was cruel to see. "You should rest yourself. How long has it been now - you say we have been here the better part of eight hours - most of it with you and the men fighting the fires? You have worked tirelessly. Sit, here beside me, and rest."
"But you, yourself. How fare you, my Lord?"
"It hurts to take a breath and my head aches, but Arciryas says if I keep drinking the comfrey tea, I should feel better soon." A fit of coughing racked his body. After a few moments, which increasingly alarmed Ciramir, the hacking ceased. "Please, sit with me."
Trying to sit as cautiously as possible so as not to cause his captain further pain, Ciramir positioned himself on the ground next to Thengel. He laid his head back against the tree's harsh bark and closed his eyes. He told himself it would only be for a moment.
Baranor was finally relieved by another. Arciryas heaped thanks upon him for finding the herbs needed. He shook his head in denial. "I am glad I was here to help." He walked up to the two men leaning against the tree to report in to Ciramir. Seeing him asleep, he turned to Thengel, "My Lord Thengel," he whispered, "you should sleep yourself. Arciryas has prepared this draught of Valerian tea for you. It should help you sleep, and you must needs sleep now. Please drink it."
"In a moment," Thengel said, the thought of the pungent smelling tea almost nauseated him. "Tell me, how is Denethor?"
"He woke for a few moments but is asleep again. He is restless. The Valerian seems to do naught for him. I believe he worries for Amdir. He calls his name. Arciryas says he will recover. It will just take time."
Thengel looked at the lad. "Dúinhir has been promoted; he will no longer be Denethor's aide. Will you now take that post?"
Baranor was stunned. "Yes, my Lord, if that is your wish."
"It is my command. You have shown yourself well this day." He was afraid to ask the next question. "And Amdir? Is there hope for Amdir?"
"Arciryas has not stopped his ministrations. He had the men place him in a trough of water for a few moments as soon as they brought him out of the fire, as they did for Denethor and you, then he made a poultice of aloe and lavender. He has been reapplying it to his burns every few hours, then wrapping him in clean cloth."
"How much of his body was burned?"
Baranor shook his head. "His back is difficult to look upon, but it seems to be where the burn is the worst. Blisters are already forming. He must have tucked his hands under his stomach for they are unscathed. And, though much of his hair has been singed, the scalp does not seem to be badly burned. Arciryas is, nonetheless, very concerned." If the lad lived, Baranor did not tell Thengel, it would be a marvel.
The women insisted that Morwen be put to bed. They would call her when they had aught to report. Indis would go to Ecthelion and inquire as to any happenings in and about Gondor.
"All will be well, my dearest," Indis whispered to Morwen. "It is only the carrying of the babe that is giving you distress. Thengel, and all his company, are well. Now please rest. Listöwel will stay with you while Elleth and I go to my father." Listöwel looked at the two women - their heads bent together in discourse. She could see the love that flowed between them; she wished with all her heart that one day she would be as close as they.
Elleth and Indis started to run as soon as they left Elleth's home. Both knew women with child were more susceptible to visions.
Ecthelion was just releasing Húrin and his troops as the women reached at last the High Court and the place of the Fountain before the feet of the White Tower.
Indis stood back for a moment, assessing what was happening. Then she stepped forward. "My Lord, why is the battalion from Osgiliath here? Has something untoward happened?"
Confused, Ecthelion looked at her. "What do you speak of? Húrin is here at my command. There is naught amiss."
"Forgive me, my Lord. I... Morwen had a vision. I was concerned. Now, I see that all is well. Again, forgive me, my Lord, for interrupting." She made as if to turn away.
"What say you about a vision?"
Indis turned back towards her father. "She saw Thengel, seeming unable to breathe and lying against a tree, my Lord. But if Captain Húrin is here, then she must have interpreted it incorrectly."
Ecthelion looked towards Ithilien. His face whitened and his hands clenched. "There is smoke rising from the forest. Húrin, take your men immediately and determine what is amiss. I will expect an errand-rider before dawn.
Arciryas himself walked over. "Thengel, you should be sleeping by now. Where is that draught I sent over?"
"It is here at my side, waiting for me to drink it. The smell would cause a Mûmak to run for cover."
Arciryas quietly laughed. "It is sleep that seems to run from camp this night. No one is resting and I fear I will have more patients on the morrow if certain people do not rest." He looked at Ciramir. "Though I see one such has finally taken my advice."
"He did not take your advice, dear Arciryas. Sleep overcame him unbidden."
"I would it did the same for you, my Lord."
Thengel gave a harsh laugh. "I myself would this night were over. Bitter has this day been. My heart gives me more pain than these burns. I would that we were here earlier to save these people, these children." A sob broke from his burned lips. "I grieve for them as I would for my own. Soldiers' children should not die in this manner; nor their homes turned into a battlefield."
Arciryas sat for a moment, bereft of words. "The men are very helpful," he finally said, trying to turn his captain's thoughts to easier matters. "They are not used to doing healing work, but they are adapting well. I have two men keeping the fires burning and two more soaking cloth in the boiled water. I have another two stripping aloe leaves and crushing the lavender for my poultices. Those who are on 'tea duty' do not seem to realize you must cover the tea while it is brewing to keep the healing qualities potent, but they will learn." Arciryas' droning voice nearly put Thengel to sleep.
There was the clamor of horses' hooves and a horn rang out. Thengel's head snapped up and he tried to stand, but could not. Arciryas held his shoulder. "Do not, my Lord, you will undo all the good we have done. It is Húrin. I can see him from here. Osgiliath has at last answered our call."
Húrin drove his horse towards where Thengel lay. "My Lord, forgive my lateness," he cried as he jumped off his horse. "We were called back to Minas Tirith. Ecthelion deemed Ithilien safe with your company here. Forgive me!"
Thengel acknowledged the bow and motioned for Húrin to sit by him. "I will not ask you the purpose of that summons. Suffice it to say, I am most grateful that you have arrived when you did. The men are exhausted. Dúinhir has been on patrol for too long. Our pickets need strengthening..."
"And," Arciryas interrupted, "our captain needs his rest."
Thengel glared at the healer. "We must decide what action to take now. I confess I am too tired to think." Another fit of coughing engulfed him.
Arciryas looked at him in dismay. Thengel stopped his retort with a look. "Denethor is badly hurt but will recover. I seem only to be burned on my hands and the poultice is cooling." He smiled at Arciryas. "Our healer is quite adept at his craft. However, Amdir is in need of additional remedies. He needs to be in the Houses of Healing."
"We have brought no cart, my Lord. I will send for one immediately..."
"How is there no cart?" Thengel started in surprise. "The errand-riders were told to ask that a cart be brought."
"My Lord, we met no errand-riders."
Silence engulfed the camp, as the few who were awake understood what Húrin's statement meant.
"Ciramir," Thengel gently shook his aide's shoulder. "Ciramir," he said again.
The eyes fluttered open and Ciramir quickly stood. "My Lord?"
"Ciramir, when was the last time Dúinhir's patrol reported?"
"How long have I slept? Nay, wait, it was about an hour before I came to your side."
"When was he to report again?"
"Every four hours, as is our custom. What is wrong?"
"The errand-riders never made it to Osgiliath. We should have sent more than two men."
"My Lord," Ciramir said, "I sent a full patrol - ten men."
The healer saw the sudden chill that swept Thengel. He quickly took another blanket and threw it over Thengel's shoulders.
Húrin sat down next to Thengel, more to keep the captain still than for easier discourse. "I have brought half the battalion with me. If you would allow, I will send two companies out to relieve Dúinhir and another two towards Osgiliath to search for the errand-riders and to return with a cart. That leaves your company and my last one to guard this area. Granted, your men are tired, but we will place extra pickets. My men will take first duty while yours rest."
"We seem stretched too thin," Thengel said more to himself than Húrin, "but it will have to do."
"I could not leave Osgiliath untended," Húrin said, apologetically.
"Of course you could not. I was not suggesting that," Thengel snapped and then immediately apologized. "Forgive me."
"Nay, forgive me. If this plan meets your approval, I will set it in motion."
"Yes, the sooner the better," Thengel said. "I would know what further danger we may yet face."
Arciryas stepped forward. "My Lord Húrin, I must beg you to use your influence upon Captain Thengel. Though he contends it is only his hands that suffered hurt, his entire body has burns upon it - none as severe as his hands, but it is burned nonetheless. His lungs are affected too. He must rest. He is grievously wounded and has yet to close his eyes."
Thengel once again found himself glaring at Arciryas, but naught would stop the healer from taking care of his captain.
In the midst of this, and at the sound of the horn, Denethor awoke. His head ached terribly and his mouth tasted of soot. He tried to will away the pain in his hands and to concentrate upon the talk around him. He did not understand why, but he knew they were in serious trouble. None heard his moan, he thought, and for that he was thankful. The question he had tried to ask went unanswered. Baranor had heard though and went immediately to his side.
"My Lord, you spoke?"
"Is that Captain Húrin I see?"
"Yes, my Lord. He brought half Osgiliath's battalion. They are relieving our men now. Here is some more tea, my Lord. Please drink it."
Denethor tried to brush the cup aside, but found he could not control his own limbs. Shaking his head to clear it only made it ache more. "Baranor, that is your name, is it not, what is happening?"
"It is as I told you, my Lord. We are being relieved. Please, drink the healer's tea."
Denethor lay back, exhausted. His mind whirled trying to make some sense of where he was at and what had happened. "Baranor, please tell me. Is Amdir...?" He found he could not ask it.
"My Lord, Amdir lives. He is badly burned, but a cart is being sent for and Arciryas is tending him."
"Too many words with too little meaning." Tears of exhaustion and grief sprang up in Denethor's eyes. "Is there any hope for him? Nay, do not answer that. I am sorry I asked. Go and do your duty."
"My duty is to help you drink this tea and to stay by your side," Baranor said as Denethor finally ceased his struggling and drank the tea. Denethor wanted desperately to see Amdir, but his body would not obey him. He closed his eyes in utter grief.
Dúinhir's patrol returned shortly after and was relieved, pickets were exchanged, and Húrin sat by Denethor's cot. Thengel had at last fallen into a troubled sleep, but it was sleep nonetheless. Arciryas was tending Amdir. Húrin's duty to Ecthelion had brought him to Denethor's side. 'Only eighteen years,' he mused. 'I remember him when he played with frogs and childhood things. How could time have passed so quickly? Is there ever to be peace so that children may grow up carefree with a real future before them - not death and destruction?' The lad stirred and Húrin picked up the moist cloth, wiping the perspiration from Denethor's brow. The gray eyes flew open and their depth struck Húrin. He had seen portraits of the Kings of Westernesse, and if ever a man of Gondor looked like one of those kings, this one did. Those eyes now burned into him and he found he could do naught but answer the unspoken questions.
"We still do not know the enemy we face nor the extent of the damage done. This village has been wiped out. The only survivor is the boy you found. The patrol sent to Osgiliath is surely lost, probably ambushed. New pickets have been... " He was interrupted by an old man who pushed him out of the way.
Findegon stood before Denethor, his sun-darkened face contorted with pain. "Denethor," he hissed, "what has happened here? Where are my people?"
Tears welled in Denethor's eyes. "Your people are all lost. I am sorry, Findegon. The village was attacked early this morning. We do not yet know the enemies name. We came too late. Only one child was found alive. He is over by the third tent."
Findegon turned and moved towards the tent. Bidden by a sign from Denethor, Baranor was instantly at the Ranger's side. Findegon bent over the sleeping child and a cry of joy and despair escaped his lips. "Damrod! Damrod," he cried and hugged the babe to his chest. Baranor walked him to a stool and helped him sit. A few moments passed. Húrin made as if to speak, but Denethor motioned to him for silence. At last, Findegon rose, placed the babe back in the cot, walked over to Denethor, placed his hand on his chest and bowed.
"Baranor tells me it was you who saved my grandson. I thank you."
Denethor hung his head. Fate was so strange. Out of all those lost this day... The burden was too great, he thought, his heart breaking for Findegon.
"My son was one of those guarding this camp. Would you know where he is?" Findegon asked.
"Findegon," Denethor sighed, "we have buried the dead already. If your son was here, he did not survive. I am so very sorry. We have swept the land hoping to find survivors. There were none."
"Not only my son, but all my kin lost as well. My wife, the wife of my son - all gone. If only we had seen the smoke earlier, or if I had... Nay, there was no warning, no time for aught but grief."
Silence and sorrow engulfed the men. None were untouched by the horror of the day. For a fleeting moment, Denethor felt the fight was not worth the price. Perhaps they should desert this area and move west. But as quickly as the thought came, it passed. He could never leave Gondor nor Minas Tirith. Again, the memory of the White Tower as they had returned from Lossarnach swept through his mind and the feeling of joy and awe as he looked upon it encompassed him. Nay, never could he leave her - not alive.
The next morning dawned bright and beautiful. Birds sang and still the huts smoldered. Denethor introduced Findegon to Húrin and Thengel. The men sat around Denethor's cot.
Thengel turned and spoke to Findegon. "I believe you should return to Henneth Annûn and bring your men back here. We will abandon that place for the moment." The look of grief on Findegon's face caused Thengel to pause and he put his hand on the Ranger's shoulder. "You have done everything you could to protect Gondor. Now, we must collect our forces and report to Lord Ecthelion. I will not leave the few men you have left here alone."
"My Lord is wise in all things, I see. We will do as you command. Our hearts will leave this place with a heaviness that I had not thought possible to bear. All I have loved and honored were in this land!"
"We will be back!" Denethor interjected passionately and the coughing started anew. Baranor stepped to his side, a steaming cup of comfrey tea in his hand. He held it to Denethor's lips and Denethor tried to swallow sips between the coughing.
"Yes," Thengel said, "we will be back. Your men will be refitted with new uniforms and weapons and reinforcements. You will again be Rangers of Ithilien."
"Nay, my Lord," Findegon turned towards Denethor and bowed his head. "I will not return here. I ask your leave to return to Minas Tirith and serve Gondor there."
"It is not my right to accept or reject your request, Findegon," Denethor said. "Your fate is in my father's hands, but I will do everything in my power to make this happen, if that is your wish." The men sat in silence.
Two companies of men, full one hundred forty soldiers rode into the camp, a horse-drawn cart following behind them. Húrin went to speak with his men and returned shortly. "I now believe it was Orcs who attacked this camp. The remains of the patrol have been found. It appears to me that a band came out of the mountains and attacked this village. They had begun their feasting when your company was discovered coming towards them. They fled and hid nearby, saw the errand-riders sent out, followed and attacked them. The band was small but there was little hope. Where the Orcs have gone, I know not, but I do believe they have left the area. It was not a large enough band to come against our strength."
Denethor remembered the state of the bodies of his Uncle Cranthir's company so long ago. 'Will we never be free?' he wondered.
"We will leave tomorrow morning for Osgiliath," Thengel stated. "We will send four companies out today, west, east, north and south for one last survey of the area. Then we will head back to Minas Tirith."
"Ecthelion ordered me to send errand-riders to him," Húrin said.
"Nay, I will not risk a patrol. It has proven too dangerous unless I send an entire company and that I will not do. I have better uses for our men than to send them off thusly."
Denethor sighed. His father would be ill pleased to have his orders countermanded. Another sigh escaped his lips and Thengel looked up, questioning. When Denethor said naught, he turned towards Ciramir.
"Replace the pickets and send out the remaining two companies."
Húrin interrupted him. "My Lord, if I might, I would take a company out myself?"
Thengel nodded, weariness suddenly overtaking him. "Ciramir, take Findegon's men and one company of ours, go to Henneth Annûn and bring the remaining Rangers back here."
"My Lord," both Húrin and Ciramir brought their hands to their chests, bowed their heads, and walked away.
"Well, Denethor, it seems you are having your way at last. The Rangers of Ithilien have been relieved! Now tell me, what are your thoughts? Your sighs were loud enough to wake the dead."
Denethor's face turned as red as his burned hands. He shook his head. "I would ask your pardon, Captain Thengel. My mind has been in a thousand places, least not Minas Tirith. My... Ecthelion will be most displeased. Húrin should have sent errand-riders as soon as he reached our camp. You know this would have been my father's order. Now, a full day and a night have passed and still Ecthelion waits."
Thengel moved his stool closer to the cot. His eyes were heavy with fatigue and pain. "You would question me?" he asked gently.
Denethor shook his head. "Nay, I know you are wise, as Findegon noted, but in the ways of diplomacy...? Know you not that my father stands waiting? What do you gain by not obeying him?"
"What do I gain? How can you ask that? Do you not see the need for conserving our strength?"
Again Denethor sighed. "My friend and counselor. What have you taught me about obedience? You are commanding Húrin to disobey his Captain-General. We could survive with one less company. Would it not be better to send one of the more worn companies at a gentle gait to the City? Show Ecthelion the respect he is due. The men know he waits."
Thengel let his head drop and finally Denethor became conscious of his friend's exhaustion. He motioned to Baranor, ever close at hand, who stepped forward. "Please ask Arciryas to attend me if he has a moment." Baranor nodded and swiftly left.
"Thengel?" He touched a bandaged hand to his friend's cheek. Thengel looked up in surprise. "It is very near to nuncheon. Your orders are being carried out as we speak. Would you join me for the meal?"
Arciryas arrived and, at a look from Denethor, turned his attention to Thengel. The bandages on his captain's hands were removed, new salve was gently spread over the burns, and fresh cloth was applied.
"My Lord," Arciryas said, "it is time you took rest again."
Thengel looked surprised at Arciryas' request, saw Denethor's concerned smile, and laughed quietly. "Your invitation for nuncheon was a ruse I see, to keep me by your side until our healer could arrive. Diplomacy!"
Denethor's smile widened. "Perhaps you will join me in a cup of that foul-smelling Valerian tea and an hour's rest?"
Baranor brought a cot and placed it next to Denethor's. The two friends laughed quietly.
"Only for one hour," Thengel retorted.
Morwen had been moved from the Elleth's home to Thengel and her quarters in the Steward's Hall and Adanedhel had given her a gentle sleeping draught. Indis sat at her side while Listöwel paced outside in the garden. Elleth brought in tea.
"A day and a night have passed since the vision. Do you think it was real?" Elleth asked.
Indis sighed. "Yes, I believe it was real and that our men are in danger. I would that it were not so."
Listöwel had overheard them, came into the room, and sat at Indis' feet. Indis laid her hand on the girl's head. "This is a fine way to make wedding preparations," she smiled gently. "Our men are strong, dearest, and when joined as they are, the three of them are strongest. I do not feel that any of them will ever fall when they are together."
Listöwel smiled through the tears that now fell at Indis' words. She had sensed the friendship, courage and strength that bound these three men together. The gentle words of Indis gave her much hope.
Elleth poured the tea and the three women grew in their own strength and courage.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.